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The Difference Between Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease

What is gluten? The term “gluten” refers to a specific complex of gliadin and glutenin proteins found in the endosperm of wheat, rye, and barley. It is the group of proteins that give elasticity to dough, allowing it to rise or give a chewy texture to baked goods.

What is celiac disease? Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine in genetically susceptible individuals. It is triggered by ingesting gluten, which is naturally present in some cereal grains. As many as 1% of the general population in the United States will develop celiac disease, while the prevalence is up to 10% for those with an affected immediate family member. Although celiac disease has no known cure, individuals who have this disease are advised to avoid all sources of gluten in their diet. Over time, strictly avoiding consumption of all gluten sources can improve the symptoms and reduce the associated health risks of celiac disease.

What is gluten sensitivity? Gluten sensitivity is an inflammatory condition caused by dietary gluten in the intestines. This is distinct from celiac disease in that it is not an autoimmune disorder and there is no simple antibody test for this condition. It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of this condition due to a high rate of self-diagnosis, but the Center for Celiac Research estimates that gluten sensitivity affects 6% of the US population. The only reliable treatment is the elimination of gluten from the diet.

How do I know if I have these conditions? Consult your physician to determine whether you have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. A reliable diagnosis depends on your doctor being able to accurately identify sensitivity to gluten and whether gluten antibodies are present in a blood sample.

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